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‘I was half a foot away from a lion. But I was not afraid.’

Apeejay Mahavir Marg Jalandhar class 8 student Arshdeep Singh has bagged the Asian Wildlife Photographer of the Year (Junior Category) award.

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Arshdeep Singh is a class 8 student at Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg, Jalandhar. Even though he is just a teenager, his skill with the lens makes him appear years ahead than other kids of his generation. He has recently won the coveted Asian Wildlife Photographer of the Year award (Junior Category) for his outstanding wildlife photography.  In an exclusive interview, he shares his journey to become a wildlife photographer, his favourite subjects and his fearlessness while shooting big cats. Edited excerpts:

At what age did you start photography? What interested you in wildlife photography?

Actually my father is also a wildlife photographer. So as a child, I would always see him picking up big cameras.  When I was barely three years old, I also wanted to pick a big camera but I couldn’t since it weighed around six to seven kilograms. However, it was on my fifth birthday that my father gifted me my first camera. This is when I started doing photography. I started taking photographs of birds and insects in my backyard.

Slowly my interest in wildlife photography started as my father would take me along with him to the national parks for wildlife shoots.

Which is your favourite subject in wildlife photography?

Right now it is owls. When I started doing wildlife photography, my main focus was to click good photographs of owls and my first award was for a photograph of an owl only. It was the Wildlife Photographer of the Year ( Junior Category) given by the BBC. I actually find owls very cute. That’s what I like the most about them. I remember, I once clicked two owls sitting next to each other on a pipe. That was my best moment of clicking an owl’s picture.

Please tell us about the process of going to a National Park for a wildlife shoot? Also which National Park did you visit recently?

One has to plan before going to a National Park. One has to research before going there what kinds of animals and birds are found there. I must say a National Park is totally safe. Most people think it is not safe but it is totally safe. The animals are now used to the jeep. So it isn’t that scary for them or us. It is a great experience especially for those visiting a National Park for the first time.

I went to Jhalana Safari Park in Jaipur, Rajasthan recently. It is famous for leopards. I saw 2-3 leopards there and I also managed to click them. I don’t like travelling with a group of photographers. Since then I would get the same photographs as them. So, I just go with my father. We hired a jeep and a driver. I have travelled with a group of wildlife photographers in the past but not anymore.

What types of photography equipment do you use?

I use a Nikon camera and lens. The camera is D-500 and the lens is 500mm. I also use drones and gimbals as equipment. I always carry these with me.

You were recently awarded the Asian Wildlife Photographer of the Year (junior category) award. Tell us about the experience?

Well first, you have to submit your photographs at the website of Naturebestwildlifephotography.asia. You have to also write the story behind the photograph. Basically, your experience, the number of hours it took to click the pictures. Wildlife photography needs a lot of patience. After the initial submission. I got an email after a month notifying me that I was selected in the top 25. Later, I got to know that I was a finalist and eventually I won. 

I had initially submitted 20 photos in September. 14 of them were selected. And 2 of my photographs won. One was a photograph of an owl and the other was of two insects.

I really did not expect that I would win. I was so unsure whether I had any good photographs to submit or not. I was so happy to see the results. I was happier since I later got to know that two of my photographs had won. I have been winning this award since the past four years. So I’m very happy on winning it again.

Who is your role model in the world of wildlife photography?

It has been my father from the very beginning actually. Now, I also look up to Thomas Vijayan in the world of wildlife photography.

How does the school help you in realising your passion?

My school has helped me a lot. Whenever I have to travel for a wildlife shoot, my teachers ease the pressure of homework submissions on me. They support and encourage me a lot.

What are your next wildlife shoot locations and fauna subjects in mind?

Next, I want to shoot tigers, leopards and some monkeys. I want to focus on the eastern side of the country, maybe Assam.

Which fauna subjects have you covered so far in your shoots?

I have covered so many animals and birds. I have covered lions, cheetahs, leopards, owls, eagles and different varieties of sparrows. My favourite animal is the leopard and it is owls among the birds. Leopards are more active than lions and other big cats. They are more muscular. I really enjoy watching them.

What are the three things that one has to keep in mind to become a wildlife photographer?

First, always have patience. Secondly, you must work with the mentality that the camera doesn’t matter. It is the skill that matters.

Thirdly, I would say that it has taken me a lot of years to reach the position I am in currently. Everything takes time and you will achieve everything. Just don’t give up.

Don’t you feel afraid when you shoot big cats like lions and leopards from a short distance?

 When I visited  Kenya, in the Masai Mara National Reserve, a  lion came and touched my jeep. I was half a foot away from the lion. But to be honest, since the beginning I have never been afraid.

Arijit Roy is a young correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. He has done his masters in English literature from Delhi University and has a book of poems published by Writers Workshop India. He can be reached at [email protected]

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